BERLINALE 2020 INTERVIEW: CRISTINA NORD, FORUM DIRECTOR

This entry was posted on February 27th, 2020

By Mónica Delgado

In the middle of all her tasks in this edition of Berlinale, curator Cristina Nord, took some minutes to talk with Desistfilm about his new role directing Berlinale Forum, about the 50 years of this showcase, and on some topics of cinephile concern, parity and programming. Cristina Nord was an editor of the cultural section of the taz. die tageszeitung newspaper in Berlin until 2015. A teacher in Freie Uniersität Berlin, and programmer in Haus der Kulturen der Welt and Duisburger Filmwoche, she was responsible for the cultural southeast Europe program in Brussels Goethe-Institut and realized different investigations about literature and cinema.

Desistfilm: How did you take the designation as the new director of Berlinale Forum, just when the 50 years of this section of the festival are celebrated?

Cristina Nord: I was enchanted, because somehow for me it’s a dream come true. I worked as a film critic for fourteen years in a German newspaper, taz. die tageszeitung, and four years ago I stopped working there to start my labor in the Brussels Goethe-Institut. I had a proposal to go to Nairobi, as part of my work in the institute, but at the same time the Arsenal – Institut für Film – und Videokunst, asked me to direct Forum, so I thought about it for a while. I said yes in May 2019, late for the edition that we’re celebrating in these days here. It’s a special year because we celebrate five decades, and it’s an honor to be the person who prolongs this tradition onto the future. 

This new edition of Berlinale has a new artistic director, Carlo Chatrian, a person with a passion for cinema, an amazing wisdom. And in the time a vision of what this Forum was supposed to look like was posed, as an independent section, although we had an idea that it was a part of the festival sustained by itself, there wasn’t much to explain, since this section is associated to experimental cinema, with innovations in forms and narrations, with a mixture between documentary and fiction. And with the new management, it wasn’t clear if this was the place for Forum. This is why, I wanted to give it meaning, give it some identity, and for that, I worked a proposal where the spectator would find a place to think, to reflect on the world we live in, the ways in which we talk about this world, in how we film it. A place of discussion, thought, and discourse, within the framework of its anniversary, since we’ve played some films of the first edition in 1971 (for example, films by Alexander Kluge, Straub-Hulliet, Chris Marker, Med Hondo, Sarah Maldoror, among others).

The way this 2020 selection was organized is also related with a concept: in the 60’s and 70’s we lived fierce times, where people was very politicized, and filmmakers wanted to have a response to that, they became activists. And since we’re starting to live turbulent times again, of the methods this filmmakers used in the 70’s, it’s important to see how these strategies or cinematographic tools can say something to us nowadays, and come be fruitful again. This was the hypothesis in this edition, since many topics that were talked about in those years are still trascendent, like the fight against racism, which appears in Med Hondo’s Soleil O.

Then, we set ourselves to find a central motive for the current selection, like a leit motiv, and that was to seek films which will dialogue with the past, which try to represent it or find ways of present or talk about it; and that’s a strong tendency in the program. And that shows, for example, in the opening film, El tango del viudo, since part of that film was filmed in 1967 by Raúl Ruiz and was left unfinished, for his widow, filmmaker Valeria Sarmiento to finish it just recently. In five decades a bridge has been established between the present and the past, someway.

Desistfilm: You’ve talked about how the Forum 2020 program was built, and it’s interesting that you should mention the kind of work you make, based on a concept which responds to a curatorial practice. You propose a cinema that could be giving a political response as a resistance since your languages or settings (maybe not militant like the way it was in the sixties or seventies but all the same). How would you synthesize this method of work and share this experience with other curators or programmers? 

Cristina Nord: What’s most important is that this should be a collaborative process. This isn’t about choosing the films I like, or feel good about, of course that plays a role, but I work with a team of programmers with their own tastes, where there are experiences and knowledge. There’s lots of knowledge about cinema of different parts of the world, but also about certain topics like queer cinema, digital production of images, among others. And we have to be capable to embody all those bets, all those styles of working and watching cinema. I also believe that the process of communication and discussion in the team of selection is important, and I do not believe in this premise that there’s a quality, of masterpieces, of the great author, and we only should look for that. And if we don’t find that, we should find the reflection of that. That’s troublesome. I think you have to be more open, and question the notions of quality, beauty, and mastery, not assume that those are the center of the world. That’s important for me, specially in these times where primes a cultural homogeneity. The bet of Forum is for heterogeneity, diverse, open and transnational, and that’s reflected in the team that selects the films, and in the constant attempt to invite filmmakers in this way.

I think we’re living very agitated times, and there’s a resurgence of the right and extreme right, and in someway, the people who’s working in the world of culture has to take a position in the face of it. You can’t pretend that nothing’s happening. For example, here in Germany there was a racist attack some days ago, and I can’t move on like nothing’s happened. We must see how we respond to that in the framework of a festival. A political conscience is requires, but that doesn’t translate itself in showing some topics in the films, but it does in the search of the treatment of social issues through cinema’s tools.

Desistfilm: How’s the coordination with Forum Expanded in this new context like?

Cristina Nord: Stefanie Schulte and I talk a lot and there’s several parts of our work that are made collectively, like the catalog, and we share ideas about the films that could be in both sections. There’s a constant exchange. And since we don’t play short films at Forum, there’s a field in Expanded that makes a difference.

Desistfilm: How do you see the issue of parity, is it problematic when making a film selection?

Cristina Nord: It’s a fundamental necessity for me to invite female filmmakers. I think a part of the richness of the world is lost if we’re limited to only one perspective, that’s why diversity is urgent, different gazes, not only in topics of gender, but in the inclusion of African films, for example. Or reflecting the situations of the sons and grandsons of migrants in Germany, from their perspective and from cinema perspective.

How do we make this happen? Yes, it can be problematic, and I realized that you need to look for in order to find. I think it’s fruit of a constant work, and you have to be willing to do it, since we don’t live in the fifties anymore. What I’m truly disgusted about is watching some directors from big film festivals saying that there are no female filmmakers in their programs because it’s a “matter of quality”, like there isn’t bad films of male filmmakers in Cannes and Venice. Quality is debatable. You must do this work for parity, and I’m committed to do it.

Desistfilm: How do you see Latin American cinema today from the Forum selection of this year?

I’m quite inclined to Latin American cinema, since I studied the subject a lot, I read a lot of literature, I mean, I have a predilection and that’s shown a little bit in the selection. I’m quite happy with the program this year.

At the same time, I’m concerned about the situation in Brazil, since president Bolsonaro considers cinema as an enemy. And this is critical, since there’s no director or female director that has spoken recently that isn’t suffering from that, for this political issue and the social climate. It’s very bad, since it’s an assault against freedom of speech, and it is killing a cinema that has been growing for a while. I saw many short films in a festival at Salvador de Bahía, where the young filmmakers came from popular neighborhoods, people that went to a films school and had the chance of filming in their own barrios, without this exoticism that is so harmful. How are they going to carry on? We don’t know, and that’s painful.

Desistfilm: Another subject. How do you see the opportunity of distribution in online platforms, like Netflix?

Cristina Nord: It’s a complex issue, but I think Netflix knows how to please its users. For example, they’re quite smart since what they offer becomes attractive to their audience, they generate content for new audiences, like Dear White People, about african american studdents in a middle-class school, since it has the intelligence and funds to do it. Even though there’s a market, no open signal channel is betting for considering this diversity and those contents.

That’s not a platform for Forum films, since these are films for platforms like Mubi, for example. But those are new spaces that work as an alternative, that help keeping alive the trasdition and idea of a valuable independent cinema. That’s better than nothing. I see it more pragmatically now.